Sedan merely a stop­gap model for Cadil­lac

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - AUTOS - By John LeBlanc

IF 19th-cen­tury writer Charles Dick­ens was alive and well and pen­ning about cars to­day, he’d no doubt ti­tle his re­view of the new Cadil­lac XTS as A Tale of Two Cadil­lacs.

On one hand, the new-this-year, full­sized sedan tries to keep tra­di­tional Cadil­lac buy­ers in the fold. At the same time, the XTS at­tempts to lure cus­tomers who may not yet be cash­ing Canada Pen­sion cheques.

Tech­ni­cally, the 2013 XTS re­places the de­crepit Cadil­lac DTS, an ag­ing, front-wheel-drive barge that had been around since 1996 and was bought by only 227 Cana­di­ans (out of a to­tal of more than 7,500 Cadil­lacs sold) in 2011, its last year on sale here.

Seem­ingly to save par­ent Gen­eral Mo­tors a few de­vel­op­ment dol­lars — and un­like the rear-wheel-drive com­pact ATS or mid-sized CTS sedan — the full-sized XTS shares its front- or all­wheel-drive plat­form with more ple­beian GM four-doors, namely the Buick LaCrosse and new 2014 Chevro­let Im­pala. All three ride on an en­larged ver­sion of GM’s Ep­silon II global plat­form. (The XTS and Im­pala are built on the same pro­duc­tion line in GM’s Oshawa, Ont., plant).

Be­cause all-wheel-drive is a musthave for most lux­ury-car buy­ers in Canada, like the LaCrosse, trac­tion at all four wheels is op­tional on the XTS sedan. But my $60,815 2013 Cadil­lac XTS tester (price in­cludes $10,175 in op­tions and a $1,650 freight and pre­de­liv­ery in­spec­tion charge) was a fron­twheel-drive ver­sion. It had the same 3.6-litre six-cylin­der gas en­gine mated to the same six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion, pro­duc­ing the same 300 horse­power and 264 pound-feet of torque as its Chevy and Buick cousins.

Un­like other so-called flag­ship sedans, there’s no V8 op­tion on the XTS menu, which is prob­a­bly just fine with the few re­turn­ing DTS buy­ers at whom the new XTS seems tar­geted. While the V6 de­liv­ers de­cent ac­cel­er­a­tion (zero to 100 km/h takes 6.8 sec­onds) and fu­ele­con­omy num­bers (I saw an as-tested 9.8 L/100 av­er­age), there’s al­most none of the sporti­ness new-age Cadil­lacs — such as the 2013 ATS 3.6L AWD — ex­ude.

The XTS’s steer­ing is one-fin­gerlight and not very com­mu­nica­tive with what’s go­ing on down at road level. Counter to rock-solid Ger­man ri­vals, the Cadil­lac’s body struc­ture feels loosey-goosey, with any bad pave­ment be­ing felt and heard by pas­sen­gers.

And while Cadil­lac spouts on about the XTS be­ing equipped with the brand’s ex­cel­lent Mag­netic Ride Con­trol shock ab­sorbers and a rear air sus­pen­sion, the ride and han­dling bal­ance doesn’t de­liver ATS-like ath­letic driv­ing dy­nam­ics. Yet the ride is so firm, it also fails as a quiet, com­fort­able cruiser on any­thing less than per­fect pave­ment.

So the new XTS won’t in­spire its own­ers to book a trip to Ger­many to flog it around the Nur­bur­gring race­track. Fair enough. But in an at­tempt to keep up with the gad­get-laden com­pe­ti­tion, Cadil­lac de­sign­ers have gone over­board in mak­ing the in­te­rior er­gonomics of the XTS po­ten­tially con­fus­ing for tra­di­tional DTS cus­tomers.

Like the Im­pala and LaCrosse, the XTS of­fers a roomy and com­fort­able in­te­rior — rear legroom is par­tic­u­larly gen­er­ous. But while there’s plenty of leather-cov­ered-this and chrometrimmed-that, the Cadil­lac User Ex­pe­ri­ence (or CUE) sys­tem is hard to use, no mat­ter what age you are.

While some au­tomak­ers have tried to re­duce the num­ber of cen­tre-dash but­tons via a cen­tral con­troller, the CUE sys­tem has al­most as many but­tons as a con­ven­tional de­sign. Most frus­trat­ing is the fact the but­tons are in­con­sis­tent in their use. At times, I had to make sev­eral at­tempts to ac­ti­vate the hap­tic — a tac­tile feed­back tech­nol­ogy that senses touch — but­tons. The cen­tredash screen — which con­tains many of the ba­sic au­dio and cli­mate con­trols that would nor­mally be han­dled by a few knobs — is also a long reach away.

A week driv­ing the sedan only ce­mented a sense of the XTS’s co­nun­drum. Un­like new-age mod­els such as the ATS and CTS, the XTS is a throw­back to old-school Cadil­lacs, where com­fort and fea­tures were more im­por­tant than great driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. But in an at­tempt to be hip with the younger crowd, the XTS’s CUE sys­tem and quasi-sporty driv­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics will be off-putting to re­turn­ing DTS buy­ers.

The new Im­pala’s cen­tre dash adds more con­ven­tional knobs and but­tons, and is eas­ier to use be­cause of it. And therein lies per­haps the big­gest hur­dle for the new XTS: a lack of value.

Al­though Cadil­lac calls the new XTS its flag­ship sedan, it re­ally isn’t. GM’s lux­ury brand has all but ad­mit­ted the XTS is a stop­gap model un­til a true, rear-wheel-drive flag­ship sedan (to com­pete with the likes of the BMW 7 Se­ries and Mercedes-Benz S-class) ar­rives in a few years.

For about $5,000 less than the Cadil­lac sedan’s $48,995 base price, I can get a loaded 2014 Chevy Im­pala with the same pow­er­train, same in­te­rior room and the ma­jor­ity of the XTS’s lux­ury, con­ve­nience and safety fea­tures. If I were on a fixed in­come, I know which GM full-sized sedan I would buy.

The 2013 Cadil­lac XTS, above, and the Chevro­let Im­pala are built on the same pro­duc­tion line in GM’s Oshawa, Ont., plant.

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